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Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Composition of the Armies

To refight the four battles of the civil war, Compiègne, Cologne, Amblève and Vincy, we would use the Carolingian army list of III/28. There are a few minor wrinkles with this, firstly, the Frisians were allied with Neustria during the war and these are not listed, secondly, the nations mentioned on the Carolingian list (Swabia, Bavaria, Thuringia and Gascony) had yet to be subdued by Charles Martel, requiring a further two-decade long conflict in Germania (721 – 741). Without their participation, the ratio of cavalry to infantry could be lower than is listed.

Refining the list

Looking at the resources available for both armies, Austrasia encompasses the original tribal territories of the Salian and Ripuarian Franks, leaving the former Gallo-Roman territories, including Burgundy, under Neustrian control. Yet, despite each duchy covering large territories, both armies at the time could field relatively small forces. War in the Middle Ages cites the number of magnates supporting either side as small, with the non-participating viewing the conflict as a dispute between two houses; the Merovingian and Pippinid. This generated possible troop strength, Contamine observes, to reach about 1000 or 2000 men with 5,000 being an exception. This would eventually change during the reign of the Charlemagne, as military obligation in some form would become universal for all levels of society, including the Church.

A further point made by Contamine, Frankish cavalry were not averse to dismount and fight on foot when the need arose. This possibility is not catered for in DBA3, but is allowed in DBMM with knights fighting as spearmen.

Although not recognised, the Frisian are allied with Neustria and DBMM lists them as such and the end date of 690 extended to participate in the civil conflict. (See II/78, Old Saxon, Frisian, Bavarian, Thuringian and Early Anglo-Saxon Armies). This gives Radbod a massive warband host to meet Charles before the walls of Cologne and not a mirror image of the Carolingian army. More information can the found here.

Placing these points in proper perspective, a modified Carolingian list for the civil war of 714 – 719 may look like this.

The Carolingian Franks 714 – 719 AD

1 x General (3Kn//Sp), 2 x caballari (3Kn), 2 x caballari (3Kn//Sp), 4 x select levies (4Bd), 1 x archers (3Bw or Ps), 1 x archers (Ps), 1 x lesser levies (7Hd). Allies of Neustria, Frisian II/78.

Using the historical scale on page 14 and reducing this by half, produces a total of 2,375 men. (5 cavalry x 125, 4 infantry x 250, 2 archers x 125, 1 lesser levy x 500).

Recommended reading

Philippe Contamine, War in the Middle Ages.

Charles Oman, The Dark Ages, 476 – 918,

Timothy Reuter, Germany in the Early Middle Ages, 800 – 1056.

Ian Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450 – 751.

Hugh Kennedy, Muslim Spain and Portugal.

Slingshot 273, 274, 276, 279, 280

Sources often quoted in the above reading list.

Chronique de Frédégaire.

Liber Historiae Francorum.

Annales Alamannici (en).

Annales de Metz.

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

The Civil War of 715 AD

Pepin of Herstal, Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, united the Frankish realms of Neustria and Burgundy in 687 and subjugated the Alemanni, Frisians and Franconians firmly setting the Pippinid family as the strongest in Francia. His death, in December 714, signalled an open conflict between his heirs and the Neustrian nobles seeking independence from Austrasian control.

Dagobert III remained the Merovingian king of the Franks, but real power lay with the Mayor of the Palace and before Pepin’s death, Plectrude, his wife, had him disinherit his sons by his mistress Alpaida and appoint Theudoald as his successor. Friction soon escalated when Dagobert III named Ragenfrid as Mayor of the Palace, essentially declaring Neustrian independence and setting the stage for a civil war.

September 715

The Neustrian army went up to meet Theudoald on September 26, 715 at Compiègne, in Neustria, in the forest of Cuise located between Saint Jean de Cuise and Cuise-la-Motte. The battle was brisk and a defeated Theudoald fled to his grandmother Plectrude in Cologne.

Events took a peculiar turn as the 16-year-old Dagobert III dies of an illness, opening an opportunity for Ragenfrid to exercise his position as Mayor of the Palace by appointing a new king of Francia, Chilperic II. In turn, Chilperic II confirms Ragenfrid’s position as Mayor of the Palace.

Not wishing to remain idle, Plectrude, the widow of Pepin of Herstal, gathers the support of Austrasian partisans to name her grandson the true mayor, and to ensure her choice she imprisons Charles Martel, son of Alpaida, in Cologne. Escaping from prison, Charles is supported by Austrasian magnates generating the war between three parties.

Meanwhile, King Chilperic II of Francia and Raganfrid lead a Neustrian army to take Cologne and subdue Plectrude and Charles Martel.

Spring 716

Subduing Plectrude and Charles Martel was not the sole objective of Chilperic II and Raganfrid, as the great wealth of the Pippinid family was held in Cologne. To increase their success, Raganfrid secured an alliance with Radbod, bringing his Frisians upriver to Cologne. While Chilperic II and Raganfrid besieged Plectrude in Cologne, Radbod engaged the forces of Charles outside its walls. The Frisians held Charles at bay, while Plectrude bought off Chilperic II and Raganfrid with a substantial portion of Pepin’s treasure.

Recovering from the setback at Cologne, Charles regrouped his forces to pursue and reach the Neustrians near Malmedy. The Battle of Amblève was a turning point for Charles as his reputation not only grew, but he had regained his father’s wealth.

In joining Chilperic II and Raganfrid, Radbod of Frisia seized the moment to sack Utrecht, burning churches and killing missionaries. This aggressive act brought Charles the needed support of Willibrord and his monks, improving Charles’s standing while gathering troops for his army. During the period of training, Charles sent envoys with a proposal to end hostilities on the condition his rights as mayor of Austrasia were recognised by Chilperic II. The refusal was not unexpected and preparations continued for a spring campaign.

Spring 717

The Battle of Vincy, near Cambrai, was a major victory for Charles Martel, who pursued Chilperic II and Raganfrid to Paris. However, not prepared to hold the city, Charles returned to Cologne to deal with Plectrude. In taking the city and dispersing her adherents, Charles allowed Plectrude to retire to a convent.

Able to consolidate his power, Charles proclaimed Chlothar IV king of Austrasia in opposition to Chilperic II. The political climate reached a boiling point as Chilperic would make an alliance with Odo (Eudes), the duke of Aquitaine, expanding the conflict further to include southern Francia. But that is another story.

A possible campaign

The Battles of Compiègne, Cologne, Amblève and Vincy form an ideal basis for a campaign and several options will be tested, results will appear here later. In the meantime, researching the individual battles continues and the first two have produce some interesting results.

map: Francia at the death of Pepin of Herstal. (Wiki common)

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Something New

Since 2020, the viral spread coupled with Brexit have curtailed the purchase of new figures. In its place, time was spent revitalising the collection, either by refurbishing painted figures or consolidating smaller collections to create larger and different armies.

In the vanguard of the great project were the Muslim armies, regrouped from ten small armies to five larger ones (see link). Additional armies were cobbled from Colonial Sudanese figures to build an Andalusian, Zanj, Sankuai 10 Stück FKM O-Ring Dichtung 1,9 mm dick Neongrün Gummi and Islamic Berber

Next in the queue came the late medieval collection, taking the remainder of the year to complete. The effort paid dividends as the ancient and medieval armies were better organised offering a view of what was lacking.

This brings me to a position where I can order new armies. Not wishing the hassle of VAT, customs tariff and high postage costs, I have decided to look to manufacturers within the EU.

The Carolingian Franks are my first purchase from Baueda of Italy. I am very pleased with the quality of casting as the figures require little cleaning. As a former horse owner, I am very pleased with the poses and proportions of all the mounts. The two DBA3 army packs were ordered, one pack is painted, bases need finishing and the second pack is well on its way. This should take another week to complete and plans are being made for their first campaign.     


First pack ready for base texturing.

Second pack, on their plinths to be painted.

Updated 18-11-2021

The two army packs of Carolingian Franks are painted, based and flocked. Four banners will be painted tomorrow to polish off the collection. With extra figures supplied in the army packs, I ended with more than the 14 element advertised. Four mounted Frankish archers were mounted on Essex horses giving each army an extra mounted element. Very pleased with the results.  

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Rebellion in Armenia

Armenia had always strived to maintain friendly relations with Rome and Valarsh of Armenia, despite his brother being the ruler of Parthia, was no exception. That changed when Caracalla, who succeeded his father Septimius Severus, invited Valarsh and his sons to Rome in 214 AD. Upon their arrival in Rome, there followed a similar result as did the King of Osrhoene, all were imprisoned. This brought about a revolt in Armenia prompting Caracalla to undertake a brutal reprisal.   

Recommended reading

Vahan M. Kurkjian, A History of Armenia


Standard list for both Middle Imperial Roman (II/64b) and the Armenian (II/28b) were used for both battles. The initial encounter brought the vanguard of each army in combat, involving eight elements each. This escalated to e second battle expanding the single command to 24 elements each.   

II/64b Middle Imperial Roman

1 x General (Cv), 1 x cavalry (Cv), 1 x horse archer (LH), 4 x legionnaires (4Bd), 3 x auxiliaries (4Ax), 1 x auxiliaries (4Ax) or archers (4Bw or Ps), 1 x cataphract (3Kn) or legionnaires (4Bd) or lanciarii (3Bd) or bolt-shooters (Art). 

II/28b Armenia 300 BC – 244 AD

1 x General (4Kn), 1 x cataphracts (4Kn), 4 x horse archers (LH), 4 x javelinmen (3Ax), 2 x archers (Ps). 


A Brief Encounter

Both armies sent advance guards to probe the presence and strength of each other’s force and before sunset dust clouds could be seen marking the other’s approach. Noting the dispersal of the Armenian, the Roman commander pushed his columns forward to attack the horse archers. Hillmen could be seen scampering along the crest of the adjacent hills, but this did little to impede the rapid advance by the Roman cavalry. The cavalry action was brief and brutal, sending the Armenian force in full flight. From the captured prisoners, the location and strength of the Armenian rebels was known.

Game notes

As an alternative to bludgeoning one another to reach the 1/3 casualties, another method was devised to determine a successful reconnaissance; casualties (prisoners) and the approach of nightfall. The first side to reach a total pip score of 24 would break off the confrontation, leaving both sides returning to the main body. Success is guaranteed to either side inflicting more casualties than the enemy, thereby increasing the likely hood of gathering prisoners to reveal information. 


The Decisive Battle

Caracalla deployed the legions and auxiliary in two lines, placing all the cavalry in a third; the spacing between the legions would allow the supporting cavalry to charge through while the auxilia protected the flanks. The enemy, making use of their mobility, extended their line beyond that of the Roman left.  

At the onset of battle, the rebels dominated the action on the hill eventually forcing the auxilia back. Nonetheless, the auxilia were relentless in defending their tiny portion resulting in the rebel right wing struggling to capture the ground at the end of the battle.

The centre quickly developed into a whirlpool of death, legionnaires surrounded beat back enemy cavalry and on the initiative of the subordinate commander, the reserve cavalry threw their weight into the battle.

Roman casualties steadily mounted bringing it close to a breaking point, then the course of battle changed when the rebel commander succumb to severe wounds. Fortunately for the rebels, the subordinate commander counter charged the Roman equites to recover the army standard. The cauldron was heating up in centre.

Late to the battle, few would notice Caracalla, escorted by the Praetorian cavalry and guard, shuffling forward. 

As though a veil were lifted from the scene, the rebel centre was no more. Victory however, had come at a high cost, nearly half the auxilia and the First Parthica were destroyed, but the rebels had been beaten (8-7) losing both commanders and a host of lesser nobles.

Historical note.

Having suppressed the revolt in Armenia, 215/216, Caracalla would continue his war and campaign against the Parthian, limiting the operation to Northern Mesopotamia and the pro-Parthian Kingdom of Adiabene, 217. However, caught with his pants down, he was assassinated on 8 April 217 and shortly thereafter, the Parthian would fight Rome in a three-day battle near Nisibis forcing Rome’s new emperor Macrinus to bring the war to an end.

Saturday, 6 November 2021

The Frisians of King Radbod

The army list for Old Saxon, Frisian, Bavarian Thuringian and Early Anglo-Saxon (DBA II/73) serves well for the years 250 AD to 804 AD. Most were subjugated earlier by the Frankish kingdom, such as Frisia becoming part of Francia in 690 AD, however, there are a few wrinkles with this assumption which may require an extension of the end date or perhaps the creation of a sub-list covering the transition period ending the Frisia-Frankish War by Charlemagne in 793.

The end date of 690 AD coincides with Pepin of Herstal uniting the former entities of Neustria, Austrasia and Burgundy. Despite this, Frisia considered part of Austrasia, remained defiantly independent and pagan, as recorded by Church documents. Their leader, Radbod, who ruled from 680 AD to 719 AD, fought Frankish encroachment losing Nearer Frisia in 689 and Utrecht between 690 and 692. Pepin’s death in 714 gave Radbod the opportunity to resume the offensive and retake Utrecht, sending Church leaders and monks fleeing south. Making Utrecht the new capital of Frisia, Radbod marched to assist his new ally, Raganfrid, mayor of the palace of Neustria, to defeat Charles Martel at Cologne.


The Frisian Army list.

To refight the Frisian-Frankish wars, one might think to use the Carolingian list (III/28 639 AD – 888 AD). There is a problem with this and Eric Ter Keurs in Slingshot 241, ‘Met Spere ande Skeld, Building a Medieval Frisian Army for DBM touches on some of these.

Primarily, the DBA3 Carolingian list offer an abundance of mounted troops which the Frisians did not have. Frisian nobles, who could afford horses, as Eric Ter Keurs points out, preferred to fight dismounted. Further, to reach Cologne in 714, Radbod made use of his fleet and few if any horses accompanied the army.

Striking the mounted elements from the Carolingian list leaves the select levy (4Bd), archers (Ps) and an optional Lantwer lesser levies (7Hd). Doubling the number of foot troops will produce twelve elements, however, this remains less effective than extending the end date of the previous list of II/73, consisting of 11 x warriors (4Wb) and archers (Ps).

If the blade option of the Carolingian list appeals to you, then consider the Frisian landscape littered with marshland (bad going) and laced with streams and canals, all would disorder blade units but pose less a problem for irregular warband.   

The Frisians (II/73) are listed as allies for the Carolingian Army, covering the Battle of Cologne in 714, despite their official end date of 690 AD. The same list will be used to cover the subsequent Frisian rebellions until their pacification by Charlemagne in 793.    


Map from Frisia Coast Trail  

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Rome and the Aquitani

The end of the First Celtiberian War allowed a return to life as usual for the provinces of Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. Supplies and new levies continued to move overland through the thin corridor between Provence and Hispania as the use of ship transport was not always a possible, seasonal winds and rough seas would make such a journey hazardous.

Along the route from Massilia to Tarraco lived the Aquitania and Vasci tribes, not unduly hostile toward Rome, but were not averse to resolving their disputes with neighbouring Celtic or Iberian tribes by force of arms. Yet periodically, a new warlord or a warband of young-bloods would find a Roman convoy heavily laden with booty from Hispania or fresh levies of Roman and Latin allies too irresistible to let pass. Unfortunately for history, Livy found such events unworthy to pen, so here are a few episodes which history deigned to ignore.

Rome and the Aquitani

Young warriors of the Aquitani were eager to skirmish with Roman troops. Wood covered hills on either flank would funnel an Aquitaine assault and it was decided to clear the hills of its Latin defenders before attacking the Roman centre.

The Latin auxiliaries offered stiffer resistance which stalled the anticipated assault on the main Roman line. Seeing this, the consul ordered the hastati and principes forward.

The battle lines thinned as casualties mounted on both sides (3 – 3). Gaining the upper hand against the Aquitani fighting on the slope, the consul ordered the triarii forward to turn the close fought battle for Rome, 5 – 4.

The Roman convoy

Consuls were chosen to serve for one-year and in extreme circumstances this could be extended, accompanying the consul were fresh levies to fill the legions and its Latin allies. Troops that fulfilled their term of service would return to Italy laden with plunder and their victorious consul.

Anxious to return home, the consul had set off before dawn leading his under-strength legion and wagons, one more hour and they would set camp for the night, away from the marshland.

Behind the crest of low hills, the Aquitani awaited the signal to attack the unsuspecting column.

As seasoned veterans, the column broke out into line formation to face the expected onslaught allowing the drovers to chivvy their animals further.

The battle developed into small pockets with Aquitani cavalry attacking the principes and warriors the remaining Roman and Latin troops.

The battle was brisk leaving the consul and equites to take flight as the first wagons were being plundered, (4+Wg – 1).   

Game note.

Each baggage wagon replaces a foot element and there are three for this scenario. To plunder a baggage wagon, treat this as a camp accompanied with handlers (camp followers +2/0), each wagon sacked counts as one element lost.  

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Gracchus in Celtiberia (179 BC)

Following the Second Punic War, Rome began a slow process of expanding its control over Hispania from its two provinces of Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. Both consuls pushed their respective frontiers further northward reaching the lands occupied by the Lusitanian and Celtiberian tribes.

Not all would acquiesce to Roman control and some like the Celtiberian would require a large-scale effort to bring them to heel. For the upcoming campaign. the senate extended the command of Lucius Postumius Albinus and Tiberius Gracchus for another year. Albinus would move against the Vaccaei before meeting Gracchus in Celtiberia. Meanwhile Gracchus focused his sights on Munda as his first objective. Munda fell, as did many other cities, but as Livy notes, many that capitulated were made in bad faith as the departure of Gracchus signalled the resumption of hostilities.

In 179 BC, two sharp engagements took place near Mons Chaunus and serve as an inspiration for the following games. The first battle brings the vanguard of Gracchus in contact with the Celtiberian culminating to a decisive battle three days later. For this simulation, the first battle is played as a standard game of twelve elements finally doubling in size as the vanguard joins with the main body. Rome will have a single command of 24 elements to face two Celtiberian commands of 12 elements each, minus the respective losses incurred in the first engagement.


Battle near Mons Chaunus

Like spectres rising up from the earth, the Celtiberians broke from cover to surprise the legion. Scrambling to form line from march column, the proconsul ordered the Latin auxiliaries to secure the high ground to either side of the pass while the legion formed for battle.

It did not take long for the Celtiberian to sweep the hill clear of Latin defenders on the left flank. On completion of the first phase, the Celtiberian scutarii moved toward the legion.

Having lost the high ground on the left, the proconsul would not move the legion forward until the situation on the flanks was rectified. Latin auxilia and velites sent back to recover the heights and the timely arrival of the triarii improved the situation on the left.

Despite the Celtiberian advantage of the high ground, the Roman continued to hold its position on both flanks and centre. Now fully engaged, the lines of legionnaires and scutarii swayed back and forth with neither side breaking.

On the left, the Latin auxiliaries gained the heights and turn the tide forcing the Celtiberian to break off battle (4 – 2).

Game notes; losses remain lost for the subsequent battle.


Three days later…

Gracchus deployed the combined force with legions in centre, on the right, Latin auxiliaries were positioned on the foothills of Mons Chaunus and on the left near the woods were the Latin auxilia of the vanguard.

The Celtiberians placed their strongest tribe on the left to meet Gracchus leaving the smaller tribe to meet their previous day’s combatants. Intent on securing the heights on Gracchus’s right, the Celtiberian warlord sent all his caetrati which easily secured the heights. This done, the scutarii of both tribes made a rapid advance toward the awaiting legions.

Both legions were fully engaged and taking severe loses. Adding further discomfort, Celtiberian light horse had circled the Roman rear to engage the Latin cavalry. The Latin cavalry bolted leaving the triarii to face the new threat.

The situation became desperate for Rome as gaps in the line were quickly filled with enemy scutarii. Despite the heavy losses (6 – 1), Gracchus regained control of the situation by moving fresh units including his personal bodyguard. That change brought a glimmer of hope as the enemy were beginning to falter (6 – 4).

Having suffered defeat three days earlier, the smaller Celtiberian tribe broke. Seeing their right flank collapse and incurring further casualties among their own tribesmen, they too joined the general retreat leaving a thankful Gracchus to hold the field (6 - 7).


Game notes.

From Livy’s description, the first engagement takes place near a pass in the mountain chain. The Roman player deploys first giving the Celtiberians a slight advantage by deploying second. Three difficult hills are placed on the board as seen in the first photo.

The second battle brings together all Rome’s forces (minus losses of the vanguard) under one command, e.g., one die. The Celtiberian differ as they field two separate commands one of which have lost troops from the previous engagement. One die for each command might seem an unfair advantage, but this is compensated by the lower break-point for each Celtiberian command. The terrain consists of three difficult hills forming a mountainous range on one side (Mons Chaunus) and two woods on the opposite side. The scatter material is optional, but looks good.